Encyclopedia of Sustainability in Higher Education

Living Edition
| Editors: Walter Leal Filho

Sustainable Literacy

  • Krystal M. PerkinsEmail author
  • David Zepeda
  • Luis Velazquez
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-63951-2_231-1


Sustainable literacy appears in the literature as sustainable development literacy, literacy for sustainable development, and/or sustainability literacy. Sustainable literacy is generally conceived as an understanding of sustainability and the identification and translation of issues that have sustainability implications. Although the concept has been around since 1987, it took prominence in higher education institutions during the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD). Recently, sustainable literacy has been identified as a core pillar for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals 2030.

The paper outlines the emergence of sustainable literacy as a concept. The next section first provides an overview and formal definition of sustainable literacy. Specifically, how the term literacy fits with sustainability to form the concept of sustainable literacy is discussed. The following section details the conceptual genesis of sustainable literacy and how it...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Allenby B (2006) Macroethical systems and sustainability science. Sustain Sci 1(1):7–13.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-006-0003-8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ansari WE, Stibbe A (2009) Public health and the environment: what skills for sustainability literacy–and why? Sustainability 1:425–440CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beynaghi A, Trencher G et al (2016) Future sustainability scenarios for universities: moving beyond the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. J Clean Prod 112:3464–3478.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2015.10.117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brundtland GH (1987) Our common future: world commission on environment and development. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  5. Byrch C, Kearins K et al (2007) Sustainable what? A cognitive approach to understanding sustainable development. Qual Res Account Manag 4(1):26–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cairo S, Leal Filho W, Jabbour C, Azeiteiro U (eds) (2013) Sustainability assessment tools in higher education institutions: mapping trends and good practices around the world. Springer, SwitzerlandGoogle Scholar
  7. Christensen LJ, Hartman LP, Carrier J, Hoffman WM (2007) Ethics, CSR, and sustainability education in the financial times top 50 global business schools: baseline data and future research directions. J Bus Ethics:347–368.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-006-9211-5CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Coonan E (2011) A new curriculum for information literacy: theoretical background. Retrieved from http://arcadiaproject.lib.cam.ac.uk/docs/theory.pdf
  9. Correia PRM, Xavier do Valle B et al (2010) The importance of scientific literacy in fostering education for sustainability: theoretical considerations and preliminary findings from a Brazilian experience. J Clean Prod 18:678–685.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2009.09.011CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dale A, Newman L (2005) Sustainable development, education and literacy. Int J Sustain High Educ 6:351–362CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fukushima Y, Ishimura G, Komasinski AJ et al (2017) Education and capacity building with research: a possible case for Future Earth. Int J Sustain High Educ 18:263–276.  https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-10-2015-0170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gaard GC, Blades J et al (2017) Assessing sustainability curriculum: from transmissive to transformative approaches. Int J Sustain High Educ 00–00.  https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-11-2015-0186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hyland T (1993) Competence, knowledge, and education. J Philos Educ 27:57–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Jerneck A et al (2011) Structuring sustainability science. Sustain Sci 6(1):69–82.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-010-0117-xCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Jickling B (2000) Education for sustainability: a seductive idea, but is it enough for my grandchildren?Google Scholar
  16. Kauffman J (2009) Advancing sustainability science: report on the International Conference on Sustainability Science (ICSS). Sustain Sci 4(2):233–242.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-009-0088-y.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kokkarinen N, Cotgrave AJ (2013) Sustainability literacy in action: student experiences. Struct Surv 31(1):56–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Leal Filho W (2000) Dealing with misconceptions on the concept of sustainability. Int J Sustain High Educ 1:9–19.  https://doi.org/10.1108/1467630010307066CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lozano R (2011) The state of sustainability reporting in universities. Int J Sustain High Educ 12(1):67–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Martin J (2013) Refreshing information literacy, learning from recent British information literacy models. Commun Inf Lit 7(2):114–127Google Scholar
  21. Mathison MA, Stillman-Webb N, Bell SA (2014) Framing sustainability: business students writing about the environment. J Bus Tech Comun 28:58–82.  https://doi.org/10.1177/1050651913502488CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Morris D, Martin S (2009) Complexity systems, thinking and practice. In: Stibbe AE (ed) The handbook of sustainability literacy: skills for a changing world. Green Books, Totnes, pp 156–164Google Scholar
  23. Nuhoǧlu H (2010) The effect of the system dynamics approach on understanding causal relationship skills in science education. Procedia Soc Behav Sci 2(2):3614–3618CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Pappas E (2012) A new systems approach to sustainability: university responsibility for teaching sustainability in contexts. J Sustain Educ 3:1–21Google Scholar
  25. Rapport DJ (2007) Sustainability science: an ecohealth perspective. Sustain Sci 2(1):77–84.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-006-0016-3CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Remington-Doucette SM, Hiller Connell KY, et al (2013) Assessing sustainability education in a transdisciplinary undergraduate course focused on real-world problem solvingGoogle Scholar
  27. Rio+20 (2012) Education for a sustainable future. http://www.unesco.org/new/en/rio-20/educating-for-a-sustainable-future/
  28. Rosenbaum WA (2004) Environmental politics and policy. CQ Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  29. Salamat MR (2016) Ethics of sustainable development: the moral imperative for the effective implementation of the 2030. Agenda Sustain Dev 40:3–5.  https://doi.org/10.1111/1477-8947.12096CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Scott WA, Gough SR (2010) Sustainability, learning and capability: exploring questions of balance. Sustainability 2:3735–3746CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Singh RK, Murty HR, Gupta SK, Dikshit AK (2012) An overview of sustainability assessment methodologies. Ecol Indic 15:281–299.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2011.01.007CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Sterling S. (2001). Sustainable education: re-visioning learning and change. Schumacher Briefings. Greenbooks Lld, Foxhole, DartingtonGoogle Scholar
  33. Stibbe AE (2009) The handbook of sustainability literacy: skills for a changing world. Green Books, DartingtonGoogle Scholar
  34. Strapp WB (1969) The concept of environmental education. Environ Educ 1(1):30–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Tompkinson B (2009) Coping with complexity. In: Stibbe AE (ed) The handbook of sustainability literacy: skills for a changing world. Green Books, Totnes, pp 165–170Google Scholar
  36. UN (1972) Report of the United Nations Conference. Stockholm. http://www.un-documents.net/aconf48-14r1.pdf
  37. UNESCO (2006) Understandings of literacy. In: Education for all global monitoring report. France, pp 147–159. https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/141639e.pdf
  38. UNESCO (2017) Education for sustainable development goals: learning objectives. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, ParisGoogle Scholar
  39. United Nations (2002) Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, ParisGoogle Scholar
  40. United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (1992) http://www.un.org/geninfo/bp/envirp2.html
  41. Wals A (2014) Sustainability in higher education in the context of the UN DESD: a review of learning and institutionalization process. J Clean Prod 62:8–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. WCED (1987) Our common future. World Commission on Environment and Development, Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  43. Widener JM, Gliedt T et al (2016) Assessing sustainability teaching and learning in geography education. Int J Sustain High Educ 17:698–718 (2016).  https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-03-2015-0050CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Wiek A, Withycombe L et al (2011) Key competencies in sustainability: a reference framework for academic program development. Sustain Sci 6:203–218CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Krystal M. Perkins
    • 1
    Email author
  • David Zepeda
    • 2
  • Luis Velazquez
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyPurchase College, SUNYNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Sustainability Graduate Program, Industrial Engineering DepartmentUniversity of SonoraSonoraMexico

Section editors and affiliations

  • Ingrid Molderez
    • 1
  1. 1.KU LeuvenLeuvenBelgium